misscam: (Gwen)
[personal profile] misscam
The Prince (and the Whole Kingdom)
by [personal profile] misscam

Summary: Save the princess and get half the kingdom, living happily ever after. So what do you get when you save the prince? [Arthur/Gwen, Gaius, Merlin, Morgana, Uther]

Rating: Vaguely teen. Some snogging, some implied adults activities and not too detailed violence.

Disclaimer: Not my characters, just my words.

Word count: 6083.

Author's Notes: For [profile] girlsavesboyfic's Girl Saves Boy ficathon. Might call this a AU scenario set during season three, with vague references to the start of the season. The fairytales alluded to in this story are Norwegian and many of them do indeed follow the pattern described. I might also have used some common tropes of the rescue genre.

Thanks to Saz for suggestions about what a sorceress up to no good might do. Much thanks to [personal profile] clevermonikerr for beta duties :)


II

There are many fairytales that goes something like this: There is a kingdom. There is a princess. There is a king. There is a normal guy, who through wit and skill manages to get the princess and half the kingdom, too.

Save the princess and get half the kingdom, living happily ever after.

That is a fairytale, a tale of the impossible that is all the more enchanting because it is so.

This is Camelot, and there is no princess. There is not even a Queen anymore, at least not yet.

But there is a prince. Prince Arthur Pendragon, heir to the throne of Camelot.

He's in trouble.

II

Gwen has heard Uther's rage many times. Sometimes it angers her. Sometimes it baffles her. Sometimes it angers her, when directed at those who seems to have earned it for no crime she finds entirely criminal. Sometimes it scares her, as she imagines it directed at her for a crime of the heart she's entirely guilty of.

She's never mirrored it before.

"My son!" Uther rages. "The prince of Camelot and you let him – let him – be taken..."

"Sire, we did not..." one guard tries, but Uther silences it with a red-hot glare.

"You are alive. Rather than lay down your lives to prevent harm to your prince, you stand alive before me and tell me he is in the clutches of bandits or worse yet."

"We were told to deliver a message..."

Gwen doesn't listen to the rest of it. She slips out quietly, unnoticed as the servant she is, and leans against the first pillar she can find. The marble is cool against her skin, and doesn't give in when she presses her nails against it.

Arthur is in mortal danger. Arthur. She should not think of him so, but she can't stop herself. She shouldn't think one life worth more than all other's, as Uther does, but when it comes to this life, Arthur's life, she has no sense of equality.

Not because he is the prince. Because he is Arthur. She cannot lose Arthur.

And Merlin...

Blindly, she walks towards Gaius's chambers, trying not to think.

Gaius is sitting by the bed, watching Merlin gravely, sometimes wiping the boy's forehead almost tenderly.

"How is he?" Gwen asks. Gaius sighs, his gaze not really at her even as he looks in her direction.

"No better," he says grimly. "This is the work of magic. They were ambushed by someone who knew."

"Knew what?" Gwen asks, and Gaius seems to finally focus on her.

"Their number, their strength, their skills. These are no normal bandits. They knew exactly what to expect. As if someone in Camelot had told them who and how many were riding with Prince Arthur yesterday."

Gwen feels cold. Gaius looks grim, and somehow she just knows he suspects someone. She doesn't want to know who, and instead she watches Merlin's face; it almost seems like shadows are moving across it.

"Magic did this," Gaius says to her unanswered question.

"Is there something I can do?" she asks, because she cannot just watch.

"For Merlin?" Gaius asks.

"For Merlin," Gwen repeats, then hears herself continue. "And Arthur."

Gaius looks at her, properly looks at her, and whatever he sees makes him smile faintly.

"There is a plant that may help us. If I went out to gather it, it might be deduced what I am doing and I would risk being captured as well. You are..."

"Just a servant," Gwen finishes.

"In appearance, yes," Gaius says, still looking at her. "It might still involve a great deal of risk, Gwen."

"Will it help?"

"Yes."

"Then I will do it," she says firmly. "Describe this plant to me and tell me where I might find it."

"As you say," Gaius says, inclining his head as if she were a Queen and he a servant. "There is something else you should know..."

As Gaius talks, Gwen watches Merlin's face, imagining Arthur in the same pain.

II

Merlin dreams of Morgana and darkness, always darkness with her, as if she is draped in it.

He dreams of Arthur, screaming and Camelot reverberating with it, as if the two can fall together.

He dreams of the dragon's fire, clinging across his skin, as if he's meant to bear scales and withstand it.

He dreams of Gaius, voice grim and hands tender, as if he's torn between kindness and what must be done.

Merlin dreams, but he doesn't wake.

II

When Gwen asks Morgana leave to watch over Merlin with Gaius, Morgana merely nods and doesn't seem to give it further thought or worry.

Perhaps her mind is simply preoccupied with worry over Arthur, Gwen reasons, but it's yet another thing that niggles a little, one more to the hundreds already since Morgana returned.

One day maybe they will all add up. For now, Gwen walks out of the gates of Camelot and watches no one in particular notice her. Her life, and she wonders a little how it would be to live the opposite. Always seen, always noticed, always feeling eyes on you. The life of royalty.

Arthur's life.

The life she's going to ensure he keeps having.

II

"There is something else..."

"What?"

"The old fool is up to something. He sent a servant out of Camelot on some sort of task. He might be concocting something."

"We will deal with the servant."

"Don't harm her."

"Why?"

"She might be useful."

II

Her feet hurt and her heart beats painfully fast, but Gwen keeps walking.

She's left the trodden path, only occasionally consulting the rough map Gaius has drawn for her. The forest is growing thicker, the fog more white and the shapes of the shadows seem almost malevolent.

Soon, she thinks, listening to the eerie silence, very soon.

When the sack goes over her head, she still screams, as a servant not expecting it would.

II

"Life for a life," Gaius says to Merlin, watching the boy's twitching face. "For all the magic we could master, we could never change that."

He lifts his gaze to the flickering fire, remembering another fire, another room, another life that was burning out.

"She is risking her life for Arthur's and yours," he says, feeling old and cold. If she does die, he knows he will grieve her. Merlin and Arthur will probably blame him, if they should survive and she not.

He would still repeat the choice, knowing the risk and knowing the chance.

With a sigh, he administrers the drought to Merlin – made by the same plant he would seeminly send Gwen to gather, the plant he already had a small stock of.

Life for a life. Sometimes, it's a choice people are willing to make, he knows, and remembers that room of the past again.

II

Gwen isn't sure how long she's been out or how long they've carried her. She focuses on breathing and sometimes kicking and making noises through her gag, as if to protest.

The man carrying her sometimes laughs, an entirely disagreeble sound.

When they finally do put her down, it's hard and rocky ground that greets her roughly. As soon as they pull the hood off, she can see it's a sort of cave she's in, as she suspected.

There is just one guy in there with him, but she can hear others nearby.

"Hello there," the man says, smiling unpleasantly as he removes her gag. "What sort of task were you on then, little miss, so far away from Camelot?"

"I'm just a servant!" she says, letting her real fear creep into her voice just a touch. The man eyes her up and down, then smiles a little darkly.

She picks that moment to knee him as hard as she can, watching the whites of his eyes as he doubles over. A moment later she presses the cloth of her dress to his mouth and he does pass out, as Gaius promised a man of any size would.

She breathes heavily as she leans over him, managing to fumble the dagger in his belt from its steath. Cutting her bonds is a bit trickier, and she winces as she cuts a bit of flesh too. But she is free and the sounds around her haven't changed, so her freedom hasn't been noticed yet.

She won't have much time, she knows. Hurridly, she cuts into the cloth of her dress, freeing the items Gaius gave her to sow into it and putting them in an accessible pocket instead.. She grabs the cloak off her passed-out captor, knowing it isn't much of a disguise but might buy her a few seconds in the bad light.

The light is quite bad as she peers around the corner, but her eyes adjust slightly and she can make out a cavern with several armed men, one woman with her back turned as she sits seemingly in deep concentration and one cage.

She knows who has to be in it even without noticing the familiar shape.

"You might as well step into the light," the woman's voice says. It's an old voice, but a young face that turns to regard Gwen. "You are more resourceful than I thought."

"Keep thinking," Gwen says, closing her eyes as she drops one of the potions Gaius gave her. Even through her eyelids, everything seems brighter than the sun for one shining moment.

II

Long after the last soldier has almost crept, full of promises that Prince Arthur will be found, Uther still hasn't moved, staring at the walls and seeing his wife's face.

An heir. So much they sacrificed for an heir, and now...

Morgana's hands are soft as they come to rest on his shoulders, and her voice is almost like honey.

"They will find him," she says, but she does not sound as if she means it.

"What will I do without my son?" he asks. "Without my heir?"

"You have me," Morgana says, learning down to press her cheek against his.

'Princess Morgana,' he thinks. Queen Morgana.

It does have a ring to it.

II

"Great big.... oaf..." a voice is muttering, low at first, slowly coming into focus as Arthur realises he has a terrible headache and he's being half carried, half dragged by someone, someone who sounds and smells familiar and...

"Guinevere!" he croakes, wincing at how undignified it sounds and wincing again when he's more or less dropped like a sack of potato. He still smiles, because the face leaning over him with a worried expression is indeed Gwen, so beautiful he could kiss her.

"Arthur!" she says breathlessly, her face flushed and eyes bright. "Are you hurt?"

'Of course not,' he's about to say, then a memory of fists and chains and very definite hurt slams into him. The ambush. Merlin going down, as if hit by an invisible force. Soldiers falling around him and the woman standing still right before him, her eyes gleaming like gold.

A sorcereress, he remembers thinking. Magic.

"I was attacked," he mutters. Gwen nods, her hands steadying him as he gets up and tries not to sway as much as the world seems to. "Merlin, is he...?"

"He is alive," she says softly, and he exhales a breath he wasn't aware of holding. Obviously, Merlin is a nuisance and only half competent servant, but he's Arthur's nuisance and someone else killing him would just be rude.

"Where are we?"

"I don't know where we are," she says, glancing around. He follows her gaze to note their surroundings. "I was trying to carry you out."

He mulls that over for a second, before a realisation starts to sink in. It's just her. It's just her, trying to carry him out of danger, and she's not talking as if she's expecting his father and the force of Camelot to come to their reinforcement. It's just her.

"You saved me," he says flatly.

"Gaius thought someone in Camelot was involved in your attack," she says. "Someone who would warn these bandits of any rescue attempt and maybe even kill you rather than have it succeed."

"A traitor," he says, and she nods sadly. He wonders if she is suspecting anyone in particular, and if she would tell him if she were.

"Anyone who knew me at Camelot would think me a servant," she continues, and he feels a growing surge of anger. "A servant out on an errand for Gaius."

"You risked your life!" he says hotly. "You and Gaius were risking your life on you being underestimated! Guinevere, if you had been killed..."

"I was not," she says calmly,

"It would have been my fault!"

"It would have been my choice," she counters. "Arthur, if you keep arguing with me on this, those bandits are going to wake up again and probably kill us. That will be your fault."

He bites back an angry reply, knowing she is right. This is not the time and definitely not the place for this argument, but it is not something he intends to let go.

Just the thought of her in danger seems to make him hot and cold at the same time and he reaches out for her in one quick motion, pressing her body against his chest as he leans down and kisses her.

She goes still for a breath, then she is parting her kips and breathing into him and with him; everything seems to come together.

II

Morgana watches herself in the mirror, touching her cheek with the back of her palm, seeing what others see.

The ward of Uther, a daughter in thought if not in fact.

The equal of Arthur, a royal in apperance if not in fact.

The lady of Camelot, noticed by many but seen by few.

Morgana.

It's a funny thing, she thinks, how she can look the same and feel so different.

II

"Arrogant... stubborn..." Gwen mutters, not really caring that Arthur is walking mere steps ahead of her and can hear her. He should. He better.

That he kissed as her as if she was the dearest thing in his life is merely a minor mitigating circumstance.

She's about to let a few more choice descriptions loose when he suddenly whips around and presses a finger against her lips. For a moment she thinks about biting it off, then she too hears the voices ahead.

She takes his hand as they both peer carefully around the dark corner. Ahead, there are several guards and light, streaming daylight from what can only be the way out.

"Run out when I engage them," he whispers by her ear, but she shakes her head forcefully. She has not come all this way to just watch him be in danger. For a moment he seems to want to tie her down to keep her there, then he just sighs and nods.

She goes for the one at the right, Arthur for the two at the left. Luckily, they are all too busy watching for what might enter to consider what might already be there. Gwen's target only looks her way when she's already swinging the handle of the dagger at his temple, and the look as she hits is almost comical.

Arthur has already knocked out one, and is dodging a blow from the other and as the bandit seems totally focused on Arthur, she tries to aim a blow.

Hitting a man's jaw with a fist is quite painful, she discovers, but at least it staggers him slightly and Arthur gets an opening for one of his swings.

The same hand is warm and gentle as it takes hers and they run out, the fading daylight almost blinding after the dark of the caves.

It takes a moment to realise they're surrounded by groups of bandits and tents, as well as horses tied to the trees. A small camp, in fact.

Only one thing for it, then.

They run for the horses, Gwen discreetly slipping one of the plants Gaius gave her onto the ground. It begins to grow immidiately, roots grabbing onto nearby targets. One of the bandits coming for them gets an elbow from Arthur in the face, another gets a tree branch Gwen grabs and lets go directly in the nose.

"Cut them loose, Gwen!" Arthur calls, and she lets go of his hand to cut the ropes holding the horses in place. Most of them immidiately bolt, a few declaring their displeasure at the commotion by rearing first.

Arthur is in the saddle of the last remaining one when she turns around, and she takes his hand just as someone grabs hold of her cloak and part of her dress.

It's a good thing she's not a lady and none of her dresses are valuable, she thinks, and uses the dagger to cut the bindings for the top layer of the dress as well as the cloak. It leaves the bandit with a lot of cloth and Arthur with Gwen and a horse, rearing off.

She puts her arms around Arthur's waist as he rides, resting her cheek against his back. She has actually done it, she thinks distantly, her heart pounding. Arthur is out of immidiate danger, and by virtue, so is the Crown Prince of Camelot.

She can hear the screaming, growing more distant as they ride on. Overhead, the sky is getting darker and she's not entirely surprised when she feels the first drip of rain.

Glorious escapes is rather the domain of fairytales, she reckons, and this is sadly just life.

II

"They escaped."

"You fools!"

"My lady Morgause, we only did as you asked, we only..."

"You only failed because of a servant girl."

"We will not fail again."

"See to it. And this time - kill her."

II

When it gets too dark and wet to ride safely, Arthur dismounts and helps Gwen off too, not all that happy to notice she's shivering. No wonder, since they are both soaked and she wearing only one layer of cloth now.

The rain is cold, and making no sign of letting up, and he cannot help but wonder if it's entirely natural rain.

"We should find some shelter for the night," he says, and Gwen nods as she takes the hand he's not holding the horse's reins with. The gesture makes him smile, and she smiles back at him, and he wonders if he should be in a hurry to get back to Camelot after all.

"Maybe I should make you one of my knights," he says. "You seem to take to it. Knight Guinevere, feared fighter of the realm."

Gwen beams at the suggestion, and then laughs, and he has to laugh too, even if it's not that funny. It's just exhilerating and joyful and all the adrenaline of the escape still in him, and Guinevere, still smiling when he kisses her in the pouring rain.

Not for long, since the rain is heavy and they are already soaking wet, but long enough to leave him a little breathless and Gwen's eyelids a little lowered as she looks at him.

"I think I saw some woodcutters' lodgings further ahead," he says, and she nods, still holding his hand as they walk on.

It is dark and their progress is slow across slippery ground, with more than one stumble, but they do finally reach a clearing with several run-down cabins. At least one has a standing roof, and has enough left of the eaves that they can secure the horse at least a bit out of the rain. Gwen pats it in comfort as it lowers its head, and Arthur promises it horse nobility the moment the moment they return to Camelot, and it does seem to sheer the mare up somewhat.

Inside, it's dark, dusty and smells like earth, but it is shelter. It is dark and rainy enough outside that Arthur decides to risk lighting a fire – the smoke shouldn't be visible from afar – at least he would risk it if he could actually get the fire going.

"Merlin always does this immediately," he mutters in annoyance as the two sticks fail to burst into flame at regal command. "What's his magic trick?"

"Infinite patience?" Gwen suggests, and he shoots her a look, just as a spark flickers and he manages to nurse it into a fire. Next time, he will give Merlin less grief about the ease of starting fires, he decides. Probably. Maybe. Just once.

"We should wait here until first light of dawn," he says, as Gwen sits down next to him, spreading her hands out over the fire. "They will be looking for us as soon as they are able."

"Do you know who it was?" she asks, watching his hands as they come to rest against hers, his palms against her knuckles.

"I think it may have been Morgause behind it," he says, knowing the moment he says it that he's been thinking that since he woke up, just buried beneath a lot of other more prominent thoughts.

"Then this was directed at your father," Gwen muses, and he shoots her a look.

"My father does seem to have persistent enemies," he grants reluctantly, a niggling thought about the implications of that make itself known again. Gwen says nothing, but something flashes across her face, and he remembers her father's death.

"Was Merlin badly hurt?" he asks instead.

"He has a fever and would not wake," Gwen says quietly. "Gaius knew of a plant that would probably help him. It was that I was pretending to gather for him."

"A ruse," Arthur says, and tries not to sound as prickly about it as he feel.

"Yes," she agrees. "The plant he sent me to gather, he already had a stock of. I imagine he has administrated it to Merlin by now. He should recover. Gaius is a fine physician."

"He is. He will be honoured for his part in this, as you are."

The look she shoots him is not the gratitude he was expecting.

"You would tell your father I saved you?" she asks, and the tone of her voice rather suggests that is the stupidest, most inane thing she has ever heard.

"Of course!" he exclaims, rather affronted she would think otherwise. Maybe he would leave out the part where she actually had to carry him, but he would never leave out her.

"You can't," she says. "Your father would ask why. He would ask how. You can't."

"Don't tell me what I can't do," Prince Arthur says, and Gwen's hands drop from his touch to her lap.

"I didn't come to save you as your servant," she says quietly. "Don't treat me like a servant now."

II

When Merlin opens his eyes, Gaius is sleeping by the side of the bed, looking every inch a father watching over a sick child.

Sometimes, family is in the blood, Balinor's blood in his veins.

Sometimes, family is in the love, given and returned.

Merlin intends to protect his.

II

Arthur is not at all happy with the direction this is taking, Gwen knows. She can see it in the line of his jaw, and the edge to his voice, as much as he is clearly trying not to sound angry.

Sometimes, she thinks she might be too caught up in what he can be, and he seems to falling into the same. He sees Guinevere, but she is still Gwen, the servant girl.

His father would ask for too many questions about why a servant girl came to the recue of a prince. Surely Arthur understands that?

"I thought you would relish the opportunity to save face," she says, and he looks angrily at her.

"Do you really think that, Guinevere?"

She exhales, remembering what Arthur was and what he has become. No. She does not think that anymore, if maybe she at one time did.

"No," she admits, and some of the tension seems to leave Arthur. It matters to him that she would not think less of him, she realises, and it's strangely heartening. "I've known you to face humility willingly. But you do not wish to disappoint your father."

"I would not care if he thought less of me."

"You would," she says quietly.

He exhales. "It is not right, Gwen. It should be your honour to claim."

"I did not do it for the honour."

"Why did you do it?"

"You know why," she says, averting her eyes.

"Say it anyway," he asks, leaning closer, his shoulder brushing against hers.

"Love," she says hurriedly, before she can think of all the reasons she shouldn't say anything at all. She can hear Arthur exhale, and watches him lick his lips lightly.

"I am sure the King would not object to love for your prince," he says, one of his hands moving down her back and making her spine tingle.

"Maybe not," she says quietly. "But he would object to my love for Arthur."

A heartbeat, and then he is kissing her eagerly, hungrily, a touch desperately and she hooks her arms around his neck, responding in kind. In this half-ruined house, with both wet and muddy and smelling of horse and sweat, it's hard to see the prince in him at all. It's just Arthur, Arthur tilting his head as his lips trail her jaw, comforting and reassuring. She closes her eyes to the feel of it and he kisses her eyelids, her nose, her cheek, lingering for a moment.

His breath is very hot across her lips as he kisses the side of her mouth, and she turns her head a little blindly to keep his lips close to hers.

"Guinevere," he murmurs, and she knows they are in trouble. Kissing, kissing can just be lust. The way he says her name and the way she thinks his, that is not just lust.

That is trouble.

When he kisses her, she pushes him down with her arms around him; they both go down.

II

In the dark, something is moving, a shadow in the dark, almost fading into it but not quite.

Only the eyes are different; they glow like gold.

II

Gwen is resting her head on his chest, her hair tickling his skin lightly. She is breathing slowly, her breath catching a little sometimes when he caresses her back, making slow patterns across her skin with his fingers.

He should be telling her a million things, reassuring her of his undying love and protection and honour, but the silence is comfortable and peaceful and he finds he wants it to endure. Just like this, just the two of them. It will be dawn soon enough.

One of her feet slip over his and she moves a hand to his side, and he feels almost draped in her. Without blankets, it is a very acceptable alternative, he has to admit.

"I love you," he says quietly. He can't see her face to read her reaction, but he does hear her breath catch again, then her soft exhale.

"Yes," she agrees, lifting her head, her eyes almost golden as the fire catches them. "You do."

II

With the first light of dawn, Merlin climbs the walls despite all of Gaius's attempts to convince the stubborn boy otherwise.

It's a good sign, Gaius reckons.

It must mean he's almost recovered when he's such a bull-headed stubborn fool.

II

The fog is heavy and the morning light faint as they move out, Gwen dressed in one of Arthur's under-shirts as well as her now drier half dress. It is still cold, but she tries to think of all the warmest things she knows of to feel it less.

It doesn't work too well.

Arthur is eyeing the forest with suspicion as they mount and set off carefully, and she wonders if he's having the same sensation of being watched as she is. Still, nothing happens as they keep covering ground, and she wonders if she's just paranoid.

The horse looks uneasy too, ears down, moving skittishly. There is something not quite right, Gwen decides, and holds on to Arthur all the more.

"I know," Arthur says to her unspoken conclusion. "What do you think, horse? Ready to gallop for it?"

"She's a fighter," Gwen says, willing it to be true as she pats the horse's neck.

"I know," Arthur agrees again. "I think I will name her Lady Gwen."

With that, he kicks lightly and the horse sets in motion, kicking grass and earth into the air as she moves. Behind them, Gwen can hear someone call out in the distance, and at least a few arrows are fired in their direction.

She wills the horse to run faster, and almost like magic, the mare does seem to gain speed while the world seems to slow down.

"Camelot!" Arthur calls out, and she looks over his shoulder to see familiar walls in the distance. Just as she thinks they will make it after all, something comes leaping at the them, kicking them both off. Gwen manages to stretch her hands out as she falls, catching herself at least somewhat, fighting to get up.

Arthur is already on his feet, stepping in front of her protectively. No real need, she knows. She's not the valuable target, except perhaps to Arthur.

She lets out a sharp breath as she sees their attacker, human and yet not quite. A human with the features and fur of a wolf. And the teeth, barred at Arthur.

"Run, Gwen!" Arthur yells at her, and she does, but at the wolf-man rather than to Camelot, swinging her dagger as she does. He dodges, throwing her away with one motion of his arm, and she has a brief sensation of flying before the ground knocks all the wind out of her.

The dagger flies too, only in the opposite direction, glimmering in the light before it sheaths itself in the earth.

She watches, a little dazed, as Arthur fights valiantly, but ultimately futile. He falls after several powerful punches, and she scans he ground for anything – anything! - she might be able to use as a weapon.

The dagger has moved, she notes. She is sure it used to be far away and yet somehow, now it is within her grasp. Her fingers close on it, and this time, she doesn't run. Quietly, she crouches and the world seems to be almost still as she inches closer, until she can stretch her hand out and ram the dagger into flesh. And again. And again.

The scream is inhuman, but the eyes that turn to look at her burn with human rage before being closed and suddenly, the shape is merely that of a wolf. A dead wolf, its blood pooling into the grass.

She shivers as Arthur walks over to her, putting his arms around her. She leans into the embrace, pressing her face into his shoulder while she distantly hears the sound of hooves.

It's Gaius and Merlin riding a very familiar horse, and she has to wonder just how and why Lady Gwen would find those two of all the people in Camelot. She could almost suspect there was something special about that horse.

"Are you hurt?" Gaius asks as he dismounts, she shakes her head slightly. Arthur doesn't let go of her, just turns slightly to look at Gaius and Merlin while resting his head on top of her.

"You're completely useless," Arthur says to Merlin, just a touch of affection in his voice he cannot hide, and Merlin just nods. She has to smile faintly, and Merlin smiles back at her.

"Good to see you both safe," he says sincerely.

"No thanks to Gaius," Arthur says, and now his voice is hard. "If you ever put Guinevere at risk like that again..."

"But he didn't," Gwen interjects, carefully stepping out of the embrace and meeting Arthur's gaze. "You bravely escaped on your own, outwitting the enemy at every turn. You're the greatest knight in all of Camelot and their beloved prince. They will believe it."

"Gwen..." he says darkly, but Gaius puts a hand on his shoulder.

"It would raise less questions that way," the older man says, and even Merlin nods.

In the distance, more horses are coming; Arthur's knights not to the rescue but at least to ensure the recue is now finished.

She closes her eyes when Arthur kisses her angrily; she knows the anger is not really directed at her, and after a moment, the touch of his lips is just achingly soft.

"It's not right," he says against her lips, then he abruptly walks away to meet the approaching knights. She watches him, feeling Gaius gently put a hand on her shoulder.

"You did very well, Gwen," he tells her.

II

Morgana wakes to a bright new day and the knowledge that it hasn't worked this time either.

That's all right.

There's always a next time.

II

At Gaius's house, she gets her scratches and minor wounds cleaned while Merlin fetches a dress from her house as well as hot water. They both leave her to have a warm bath in peace, and she rests in it with closed eyes until the water is almost cold again.

When she emerges dressed and clean, she almost feels herself of old again.

"Arthur is at the castle," Merlin tells her as she walks up to him. "The King was very pleased to see him. I believe he wants the bards to compose a song in the honour of Arthur's valiant escape."

"I'm sure," Gwen says, and nods. She can feel both men regard her, and she tries to summon a smile, but feels it falter.

"Arthur will always know what you did," Merlin says. She nods again.

"It's not about the honour," she says quietly. "It's just... Do you know what it is like to do something that takes so much out of you and no one will never know? Like everyone will still look at you the same, but you aren't still the same?"

"I might have an idea," Merlin says, and he does sound strangely knowing.

"Let us go celebrate the safe return of our prince," Gaius sugests softly, offering her an arm. They walk, Merlin stumbling when they climb the stairs. She reaches out an arm, but he just smiles.

"I will be well," he assures her, and she nods. He does look a bit pale, as if he too is worn out, but she supposes the fever he had to fight took a lot out of him.

King Uther is beaming, is the first thing she notices as they enter the castle. Morgana is smiling at his side also, but it doesn't quite reach her eyes. Nothing quite seems to anymore, and Gwen wonders again.

Arthur is in the middle of the room,dressed regally and looking bright and fair and every bit the prince. As she enters, he glances at her briefly, but his face remains impassive.

"I was most impressed to hear of your escape," Uther says, and sounds it. For a moment she feels almost bitterly disappointed, but then she forces a smile. She wanted this. She insisted on this. And yet...

"No, father," Arthur says after a moment. "I did not escape. Guinevere saved me. I owe her my life."

"Guinevere?!" Uther says, and turns to look at her as if he's never seen her before, everyone else in the room following his gaze.

This will be trouble, Gwen knows. And yet she cannot stop smiling at Arthur, even if half the kingdom is staring at her and the rest will soon hear of it.

"Yes," Arthur says, and he is smiling too, as if he must mirror her. "Guinevere."

Guinevere, she thinks. Guinevere and Arthur and the whole kingdom.

Maybe this is some sort of tale after all.

FIN

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January 2011

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